- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

VIERA, FLA. (AP) - Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth were in the batting cage at the same time on adjoining fields. The 18-year-old who hasn’t set foot in a professional batter’s box drew the bigger crowd of fans.

“It makes no difference to me,” Werth said Tuesday. “He’s a big talent and there’s a lot of talk.”

Harper, expected to start his pro career at Class A Hagerstown, hit a pair of home runs during his batting practice session and doesn’t want to leave big league camp anytime soon.

“Let’s make that decision harder,” Harper said. “I’m trying to stay up here as long as I can. Werth came up to me today, and there were a couple of guys who were like, ‘You going to make the team, or what?’ I’m trying to make this club. I’m going to come out every day and make their choice hard. If it doesn’t happen, then it’s going to be a great experience being up here with all the veteran guys.”

A former catcher converted to outfielder, Harper got a thrill during a BP round when he spoke with Ivan Rodriguez, who offered a little advice.

“Do what you’ve been doing your whole life,” he said. “It’s a simple game. Go out and play the way you can.”

The experience left Harper a little awe-struck.

“We were sitting there chitchatting a little bit,” he said. “I don’t really get star-struck as much as some other kid would, but sitting there with Pudge, it was really cool. We sat there, and I was talking to him and I told him, ‘I met you, so I’m done. I can go home now.’”

Harper can’t wait until Washington plays the New York Yankees so he can watch how players like Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez warm up, taking batting practice and going about their business. He also wants to watch Albert Pujols take BP.

“I don’t even remember being 18,” Werth said. “It was a long time ago, it seems. A lot of games ago.”

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said it’s unlikely Harper will start many _ if any _ spring training games, but will get some time as a reserve. The team wants to see how Harper handles the grind of playing a minor league season, with the long bus trips and all that goes with it.

Harper said he took 14-15 hour bus trips when he played junior college ball at the College of Southern Nevada last year. He isn’t ready to give up on the idea of making the Nationals.

“Why can’t it be realistic?” Harper asked. “Why can’t I come in here and think I can make this team. I’ve exceeded expectations my whole life.”

Harper compared coming to major league camp with making the jump from high school to community college last year.

“I really don’t have that much pressure on me right now,” he said. “I really don’t feel that way. I’m coming out here and trying to get better. Last year, I had butterflies, things like that. Out here, I’m around guys that are at the caliber that I want to be at.”

Werth, given a $126 million, seven-year contract, is hoping he can be the key piece in an organization that is building for the future. He will have to adjust from his time with the in-contention Philadelphia Phillies.

“Obviously, I know the situation that I’m in,” Werth said. “I chose this situation. There were other suitors and other teams and other deals and this was the one that I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in that ground up situation and be part of something. You build the team from where it was and take it to where I think it’s going to go. That’s the type of situation that I wanted to be in.”

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